The Brief: At Last, Real Substance in the Philadelphia Mayor’s Race

Plus, hard-earned words of wisdom from Milton Street, and close-ups with Bill Hite, Rich Negrin and GOP mayoral nominee Melissa Murray Bailey.

Mayoral Candidates Six Grid

We’ve been thumping the mayoral candidates pretty hard over the lack of substance—and by that we mean fresh new ideas, policy proposals, general command of the complex problems Philly faces—in the race so far.

But there are some signs of late the race won’t be entirely devoid of meaningful debate. Sam Katz, who is looking more and more like an Independent mayoral candidate, released a provocative and massively ambitious school funding plan yesterday. Placing aside the merits and shortcomings of the plan—and there are plenty of both—Katz’s proposal sets a new bar for both policy scope and detail.

But Katz isn’t the only quasi-candidate or candidate with something substantive to say of late. Democratic mayoral candidate Nelson Diaz offered up two platform planks Thursday. One is a public safety plan that proposes, among other things, ending stop and frisk and bulking up the department’s community policing strategy with more police substations. It’s far from comprehensive, but it’s something. The second, which is more detailed, is an ethics plan that proposes an “Ethics Czar” with authority “over all branches of city government” in place of the Chief Integrity Officer and Inspector General (which lack oversight over independently elected officials). That’s a tough sell; it would require a charter change. Diaz is also getting wonky with an inclusionary zoning proposal that would require new apartment buildings to reserve 20 percent of units for lower-income residents.

Meanwhile, the Anthony Williams campaign quickly responded to the release of Katz’s plan with a press release headlined: “Katz’s education ideas are closely aligned with Williams’ education funding proposal.” It’s a little unusual to see a Democrat—and a leading Democrat at that—in such a hurry to affiliate himself with a plan published by a three-time Republican candidate for mayor, but there it is. It suggests the Williams’ campaign is sensitive to any perception that their candidate is light on specifics and ideas.

There certainly is some overlap between the Katz and Williams proposals, like PILOTs and enhanced collection of delinquent city taxes (though the Katz plan goes into considerably more detail on both those points). Intriguingly, though, the Williams’ press release also claims that “Tony has already proposed” items such as “leveraging our assets through leases and partnerships.” This is probably the most controversial element of Katz’s plan, and it means dealing PGW, the airport, or the Water Department to raise cash. But in fact, the Williams school funding plan makes no mention of any of that. A multi-billion dollar oversight, perhaps?

Lastly, at his belated, formal campaign launch Thursday evening, Milton Street unleashed this little Zen koan on the nature of Harrisburg, as reported by Citified’s Holly Otterbein.

“I know the mindset up there. There are four mindsets,” he said. “There’s the mind that’s closed and never open. That’s the mind of the bigot. There’s the mind that’s open and never closes. Those legislators are defined by indecision. There’s the mind that’s open on the bright side and closed on the dark side. That’s your optimist. And the mind that’s closed on the bright side and open on the dark side. That’s your pessimist.

“If you don’t understand that when you go to Harrisburg,” he said, “this is the problem.”

Mind=blown. Only half-kidding, too.

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